Monday, July 17, 2017

The Russia Con

 Two things you can be sure of in this lowbrow comedy that the Russian affair has become: everyone is motivated by something other than getting to the heart of the issue, and everyone is hopelessly addled about the whole affair in a very public way. Nothing close to the truth will be reached until the motives are stripped away and the narrative is cleaned up. Let's take a quick tour through the shitpile, shall we?

  • Until someone shows me concrete evidence that the Russians purged voter rolls or hacked voting machines, they did not "steal the election" for Twittler. In order to believe that Russia did interfere with the election, you have to believe that the information attributed to their hack was by itself able to swing enough voters over to the Republican side to win the election, and that idea is just not plausible. It's the same thing with Comey and the emails: no one actually bothered by Clinton and her emails had any intention of voting for her in the first place.
  • Calling the Russian hacks a "misinformation campaign" is a misnomer, because most of the damaging information leaked was accurate . . . i.e., the DNC really did collude against the Sanders campaign.
  • Most of the "misinformation/disinformation" came from Wikileaks. Julian Assange, who is less motivated by the siren call of truth than a hatred of the US*, is said to have gotten them from the Russians, though no one on his end has confirmed that. And what is our evidence of that? From Politico: "Analysts can see that the attackers operated during business hours in Moscow and St. Petersburg 98 percent of the time, and they speak Russian, said Kevin Mandia, CEO of security firm FireEye." Uhm, say what? From Yasha Levine in The Baffler:
"So, FireEye knows that these two APTs are run by the Russian government because a few language settings are in Russian and because of the telltale timestamps on the hackers’ activity? First off, what kind of hacker—especially a sophisticated Russian spy hacker—keeps to standard 9-to-5 working hours and observes official state holidays? Second, just what other locations are in Moscow’s time zone and full of Russians? Let’s see: Israel, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Lithuania, Ukraine. If non-Russian-speaking countries are included (after all, language settings could easily be switched as a decoy tactic), that list grows longer still: Greece, Finland, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Kenya—the countries go on and on."

  •  In spite of all this, it's still not unreasonable to assume the Russians are involved in the hack. Maybe they really are that stupid and incompetent; lord knows American policy toward Russia from 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall had the overestimation (& subsequent demonization) of the Soviet Union at its core.
  • Russian hack or no, there's really nothing that came out that wasn't already being discussed in some corners of the media, and the DNC misbehavior was going to be a story even without Wikileaks and/or the Russians.
  • Even if the Russians weren't involved, they certainly were trying to curry favor with the Republican nominee, as has been demonstrated over and over again, culminating most recently with Junior's own email scandal.
  So let's take a step back and take a look at where we stand: it is likely, though not definitive, that Russia tried to assert influence in the election by running a "disinformation/misinformation campaign". It is also clear that the information released, while embarrassing for the Democrats, didn't really have the weight to influence the entrenched positions in this severely polarizing election. That given, liberals really need to shut up about how Russia threw the election to their opponent. Clinton was a bad candidate who ran a shitty campaign; that's the totality of that story.

  Though the information did not really influence the election, it is becoming more and more clear that Russia expected quid pro quo for the favors done the Republican candidate. The conservatives need to shut up about how the Russian contacts are FAKE NEWS, because the administration is already neck deep in irrefutable evidence otherwise.

  The real issue at the core of the Russian episode is influence. There are plenty of people talking about this issue, yet it still tends to get lost with all the other hilarity that surrounds it. Now, again, the liberals are jumping up and down screaming about this influence; that is, after all, the very point of the laws that the administration was/is running roughshod over. So that's very bad, and worthy of all the hand wringing, right?

  Well, yes it is. But when you are talking about influence at the highest levels of our government, there are already foreign entities at the table who have the influence that Russia seeks, headlined by paragons of moral value such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Asking "who is it that controls our government?" is an absolutely important question, perhaps the most important question we can ask; but at this point Russia is bush league compared to other countries, not to mention the Adelsons, Kochs, Gilberts, and other billionaire gangsters who really run this country (most of whom would happily be doing business with Clinton had she won instead of King Cheeto).

  All this is not to make light of the Russian problem. I will not, as some on the left have, write this off to "cold warrior mentality". Putin is an asshole who assassinates his enemies and rallies his supporters around the white male supremacist fear of the other. In other words, Putin is the leader the Orange Idiot wants to be, if only he had the brains, guts, and competence. You can already see how the alt-right has enshrined Putin as a hero; he is clearly someone to be resisted at every turn.

  At the end of the day, we give the Russian Con too much weight. We must respond accordingly, but we must also not be distracted from the much more dire problems that are being rained down on us by right wingers much more intelligent and competent than Twittler. We can't suck all the air out of the room over Russia just to see a thousand other things go wrong. We must focus not only on the misbehavior of this administration, but on the avarice and mean spiritedness of our nation's political culture as a whole.
*  There are plenty of good reasons to hate the US. Assange's motivations are mostly self-centered and bad. 

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